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New Zealand illegalizes file sharing

New Zealand has passed a new law against online piracy that puts the onus on everyday Internet users to prove their innocence, if accused of piracy by copyright holders, or face files of up to NZ$15,000 or have their Internet access shut down for three months. Just to make things more interesting, individual accused of piracy are not allowed to hire lawyers.

New Zealand Parliament buildings

The new law, scheduled to go into effect on September 1 for traditional Internet networks and in 2013 for mobile networks, is designed to curb illegal online fire sharing activity. The law represents New Zealand’s second attempt to curtail illegal file sharing in the country: it’s earlier effort, back in 2009, generated so much opposition that lawmakers shelved the idea for a later day. That day has come, as the New Zealand Parliament pushed through the new legislation under “urgency” rules in the wake of the February Christchurch earthquake that enabled the legislation to move through several stages of review very quickly.

The new law gives copyright holder the capability to send evidence of copyright infringement to Internet service providers, accusing customers of engaging in illegal file sharing. The ISPs must then send up to three notices of infringement against their customer; if the warnings are ignored, the copyright holder can bring the matter to New Zealand’s Copyright Tribunal, which can issue fines of up to NZ$15,000 and have their Internet access shut down for up to six months if other deterrents are found ineffective.

The goal of hearing before a Copyright Tribunal is to provide a streamlined forum for dealing with copyright disputes, rather than the lugubrious lawsuit process engaged in by the likes of the RIAA in the United STates. If an ISP account holder believes he or she is not engaged in infringing activity, he or she can make a rebuttal before the tribunal. However, the system’s presumption is that copyright holders’ claims of infringement are accurate, and accused infringers will not be able to bring counsel to the Copyright Tribunal. It’ll be up to the accused—without benefit of counsel—to establish their innocence.

Critics have pointed out that the system could unfairly punish family members or businesses when illegal downloading was performed without their knowledge, perhaps by someone illicitly using their Internet connection. Others have accused lawmakers of rushing the legislation through Parliament without full understanding of how the Internet and file sharing work.

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